Posted tagged ‘chainsaw’

return to Roundrock

July 30, 2019

What with babies being born and travel coming and such stuff, my weekends have not really lent themselves to overnight trips to the cabin. So when a window opened this last weekend, I took it despite conditions not being perfect (meaning: hot and dry and buggy). We left on Friday afternoon, and when we reached our woods, Good Neighbor Craig was on his tractor pulling his brush hog, mowing our road in because why not? (He sometimes grazes his cattle across our easement through his prairie, and he’s certain we’re greatly inconvenienced by this, so I think he is trying to buy our good graces by mowing our road. And I don’t object because why not?)

The bug most prominent on the buggy weekend was a black wasp that was busy building the nest above. This is on the ceiling of the porch where we spent most of our time. Nest building is apparently a noisy business for wasps. The wasp would return to the nest with a daub of mud and then go into the newest chamber and buzz ferociously. This was repeated throughout the afternoon and the next morning (once they day warmed enuf).

We sat on the porch for several hours, just getting attuned to cabin time. There hadn’t been much rain in the area lately, though one storm did pass through earlier in the week. The surprising result is that the lake is still holding at nearly a full pool. For this late in the summer, that’s a real win (for my ego and for the fish that will have to winter over in whatever water remains).

It wasn’t all indolence though. After sitting around, I slung more gravel and pulled some weeds encroaching on the cabin. Then I got busy building another successful one-match fire:

We cooked some (really awful) Salisbury steaks on this fire and otherwise sat around it well into the darkness. And though I didn’t expect to hear one this late in the summer, a nearby whippoorwill serenaded us a few times. Distant owls hooted. And my wife said she’d heard coyotes yipping after I was asleep. Also, a neighbor was busy in a field to the east apparently, tilling or harvesting or mowing well after nightfall. It was barely audible, so it didn’t intrude on our campfire musings, but it was constant, and odd.

On Saturday morning I finally did what I’ve been meaning to do for months: I cut down that oak tree that had thwarted me for so long. (Actually, it was my inept understanding of my chainsaw, but I’ll blame the tree.)

Not the best picture, but you can see the base where I cut the tree on the left and the fallen tree behind my chainsaw. I cut the trunk into two-foot sections and took off the limbs. The logs I carried up the hill to the wood rack by the fire ring, and the limbs I dragged through the trees to a brush pile I’ve had for longer than I’ve had the cabin. And since I had the chainsaw warmed up, I took out some other branches that were reaching into the open space betwixt the cabin and the lake as well as a cedar tree that was doing the same (though not the one you see in the photo above). Later, when I sat in the comfy chair on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and gazed down the gentle hill, I saw new trees and branches that would now have to go too. (Though not on this day.)

This was hot and dirty work. I’d forgotten how much sawdust a working chainsaw can throw on a person. And even though I had tackled this job early in the morning before the sun would scorch that bit of earth, I was sweating. So I did what any sensible person would do in 75-degree weather in the Ozarks; I went swimming.

This was only the second time this summer I had gotten into the lake. I’m not sure why, though fear of flesh-eating bacteria and brain-eating amoebas may have something to do with it. Happily, I don’t have the rafts of blue-green algae floating in the lake this year. So I donned my suit (and cap and sunglasses and shirt to ward off sunburn) and stumbled down the hill and into the water because why not? The water was much warmer than the air, and as usually happens in these cases, I was soon deliciously warm and buoyant. My wife soon followed me in, and we paddled around the water for easily an hour, just taking it all in. A pair of curious turkey vultures circled overhead, and the dragonflies patrolled the water’s surface. I did gaze up toward the cabin once, just to see how open the open area looked from that perspective, and I agreed with myself that more work needed to be done.

Eventually we had to reacquaint ourselves with gravity and stumbled up the hill to the cabin to dry ourselves and do more power relaxing. But there were no more chores that were going to be done that day, and we slowly began packing up and sweeping the cabin and porch, putting away this and that, cleaning, and straightening. The dogs would have none of it and chose to do their own relaxing in the truck, which was fine with me. Flike, the bigger dog, is terrified of horseflies, of which there were many that day. And Queequeg, the smaller dog, is coyote bait. So better for them both to be in the car (with the windows down).

We packed up slowly, which is always the best way because we tend to overlook and/or forget fewer things by doing so. Eventually we were all set to go and locked up then pulled out.

I’m not sure when I’ll be getting back to my cabin. I’m driving to Kentucky soon for a long weekend, and then my daughter and three grands will be coming to Kansas City for two weeks. I think she’d like to expose her kids to cabin life (that is, building fires!), but August is miserably hot, and who wants to have three toddlers with bug bites driving them crazy on their long drive back to New York? So it may be the end of August before I get back.

chagrin and humility

June 6, 2019

Sure, we can all laugh about it now. But at the time it was a peak moment of embarrassment for me.

Winston Churchill was credited with saying, upon hearing that some political adversary was a modest man, that “he has much to be modest about.” I try to live by that maxim.

On our recent trip to Roundrock, I went to the hardware store in town to see about a few things, and I thought I could get a new chain for my chainsaw and just be done with the inexpertly sharpened old chains (sharpened at the hardware store in faraway suburbia) that had let me down. The hardware store had an entire corner devoted to Stihl chainsaws and equipment. Those are fine tools, but my chainsaw is a Husqvarna. I described the saw to the man (“a chainsaw whiz” he was described) and said I had a 16-inch bar that I needed a new chain for. I also told him about my misadventures with the sharpened chains.

He must have been able to read me easily, because he said he was reluctant to sell me a chain if he wasn’t sure it would fit. Well, it happened that I had my chainsaw in my truck, so I said I would bring it in and he could see for himself what kind of chain I needed.

I pulled the dirty saw from its case and set it on the counter before the whiz, and then I had one of the most humbling moments of my life.

“Did you know you have the chain on backward?”

Never, until that very moment, did I have any idea that you could install a chain backward on a saw. It never entered my simple mind as a possibility. I had changed the chain on my saw dozens of times over the years, and it seems that those dozens of times I had just happened to put it on correctly. Only this last time had I happened to put it on backward.

The man showed me the direction the teeth needed to face as the chain whirled around the bar, and then he kindly offered to put the chain on properly, at no charge.

The last time I had tried to use the saw, my daughter-in-law was at the cabin and I was going to give her the “treat” of cutting down a tree. But instead of sawdust we were only producing smoke — because the chain had been on backward! Sooner or later I’m going to need to confess this to her.

When we were at the cabin last week, after I had climbed down from the roof from doing my repairs, I thought briefly about firing up the chainsaw and finally removing that tree that was blocking some of my view of the sparking lake, but lethargy had me in its thrall by then and I decided to save that chore for a later visit.

a good Friday at Roundrock

April 22, 2019

Friday afternoon, given a shortened work day, my wife and I and the two dogs hauled ourselves down to our little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks to revel in the wonderful weather. And while Friday’s weather forecast was good, Saturday’s was even better, so the plan was for an overnight. That much worked out as planned.

When we arrived at the cabin I quickly learned that the phoebe, whose mud nest is affixed to the side of the cabin under the porch roof, had moved in again. She was in her nest when I crept around the corner to spy on the porch, but she took off soon after that as our comings and goings scared her away.

She had been busy in the two weeks since I had been to the cabin, as you can see here:

My wife took this picture with her phone, and while it’s not the best image ever captured, the conditions were not good (holding her phone over the nest and snapping blindly), and it is certainly far better than anything I managed to capture with my phone.

It is our custom when we arrive to sit on our front porch and gaze down at the lake below (above) and muse and converse and more or less attune ourselves to time again in the forest. Doing this, however, meant that the phoebe would not be sitting on her eggs, and that made me feel like a bad steward of the forest. This is at least the fifth year that the phoebe has had a nest on the cabin porch wall, and most of those years have been in this same nest, which is nicely protected from the weather. (One summer we counted three broods that she had hatched and fledged.)

I took myself to the comfy chairs around the fire ring, but my wife insisted on sitting on the porch. The day was warm enuf that I don’t think the eggs were in any immediate peril without their momma, but as the afternoon cooled, my wife joined me by the fire ring where there was still some sunlight, and later, an actual fire for warmth.

It was not as though I spent the afternoon sitting around, musing or otherwise. I think we are just days away from serious tick and chigger season, so doing any work where they are in control means getting latched onto and driven insane with itching. So my plan was to cut down some trees that offended me while I still could. Such as this one:

This spot is just down the hill from the cabin, and I’ve cut away all of the trees (but one my wife won’t let me remove) so that we have a clear view of the lake below (above) and a nice view of the cabin when we’re in (or across) the lake. (In the top photo, there is a large tree on the right. This scene is just behind it, up the hill a little bit.) The tree of offense is the one on the right. It’s on the edge of the passage I’ve cut, and its upper branches are reaching into the open space to grab the sunlight. That’s what trees do, of course, but I want my view! So my plan was to cut down this tree then buck the trunk into manageable sections and drag the branchy top to the nearby brush pile. That was the plan anyway.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not comfortable using the chainsaw when I am alone at the cabin, and while I have never had a mishap with it, the conventional wisdom is that you should stop using a chainsaw as soon as you are no longer afraid of it. So with my wife present (and to a far lesser extent, the dogs), I wanted to cut down this tree while the ticks and chiggers were not yet in full deployment and my wife could drag my bleeding self to the truck and haul me (the 20 miles) to the hospital. Depending on the success of this, there were two other trees closer to the cabin that I wanted to remove as well.

But like the best laid plans o’ mice and men, this one gang aft agley.* The tree is a white oak, perhaps my most favorite species in the forest, but it was in the wrong place, and it was still small enuf to make it mostly easy to remove. I dutifully added chain oil to the saw then filled the gas tank. I managed to get it started with only a few attempts and then turned it to the base of the oak. First I cut a small wedge on the side I wanted it to fall toward (though this was hardly necessary given the slope of the hillside and the preponderance of branches, and thus weight, on the “fall” side). Then I began the back cut, which I expected to have done in a minute of effort.

The cutting went slowly. I got through the bark quickly enuf, but when I bit into the wood of the tree, everything slowed down. The blade was not sinking into the tree the way I expected. After several minutes of mostly frustration, I shut down the saw and may have uttered some Anglo-Saxon expressions. Then I fired up the saw again and leaned in. The same thing. I was cutting into the tree, but only slowly. I would have made faster progress with a handsaw, without the scream of a gasoline motor in my ear. I repeated this one more time before I admitted to myself that the teeth on the chain were no longer sharp. As with knives, the more dull they are, the more dangerous they are.

It happened that I had another chain in the carrying case, though I knew nothing about it: how old it was, how sharp it was, if it would even fit. But it was the only option I had at the time, and I could hear the ticks and chiggers planning an assault, so I carried the saw up the hill to a tree where I have a long nail protruding from it. Then I hung the saw by its handle from the nail and walked away. I had to let the machine cool before I began taking it apart to put the other chain on the bar and attempt to cut the tree again.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the phoebe all this time, but she wasn’t on her nest when I marched up to the cabin. My wife (and the dogs) were over by the fire ring, so it’s possible that the phoebe did return to her eggs and only skittered away when I lurched up the hill. As I let the saw cool, I explained the situation to my wife. In my garage in faraway suburbia I have perhaps a half dozen chains for this saw, and as far as I know, none is sharp. (It’s easier to just buy a new chain than to get it sharpened. Don’t judge me!) We discussed getting all of them sharpened and then keeping them in some better place, such as the cabin where they would actually be used. So that’s on my list of chores this week.

Once the saw was sufficiently cooled, I switch out the chain (it’s really pretty easy) and marched down the hill to the oak to give it another try. But the second chain was no sharper than the original, and I made no real progress through the tree. So I could see that the gods were conspiring against me (or just my lack of taking proper care of my tools), and I decided to give up the job for this visit. The tree seemed to be in fine shape despite the minor damage I did to its base. I fully expect it to be standing and leafed out when I return.

My hands were oily and gritty from disassembling and reassembling the saw, so I washed them with the copious cooler of water I had the good sense to bring this trip. (I hadn’t two weekend before when it was just Flike and I, and I regretted that since I had to be parsimonious with his drinking water.) Then it was time to begin the evening’s fire for cooking and musing. Being April in central Missouri, any warmth of the day was soon to disappear as the sun fell lower in the sky then dropped behind the ridge to the west. I managed to build what I’m certain would have been a one-match fire, but I used two matches just because. (Don’t judge me!)

We cooked our bratwurst (meh) and shared them with the dogs, then we sat in the comfy chairs and stared into the flames, moving more or less ceaselessly since the inconstant breezes seemed to always blow the smoke into our faces.

The barred owls hooted across the lake, and some owl gave a cackling rendition, but the real interest was when the coyotes raised a chorus not that far to the west of us. Only once of twice have I actually seen coyotes in our forest, but I know they are there by their voices.

And though I suspected it was too early in the season, I did hear a whippoorwill call from just down the hill. I loved hearing this sound as a boy, and it was one of the reasons I originally bought myself a piece of Ozark forest. It also figures importantly in my One-Match Fire stories.

With the triumphs and frustrations of the day behind us, we decided it was time to retreat to the (more-or-less) comfy beds in the cabin for the night to sleep beneath a full moon and rise on Saturday to see what that would bring.


*Not really exactly correct usage of the Scottish here, but I think you get my point.